Asia in Review Archive 2021


Date of AiR edition

News summary

12 January 2021

Singapore: New weapon law passed

(py) A new law was passed to regulate guns, explosives and weapons (GEW) and toughen penalties for unauthorized possession. The law requires class licensing for ornamental weapons such as daggers and swords, and also criminalizes unauthorized possession of 3D digital blueprints of guns and gun parts with designs taken from the interne as well as armed drones. 

Under the new law, the Minister of the Home Affairs has the power to issue security directions in certain situations, for example a situation which requires a more expedient response than modifying licensing conditions allows, such as if there is imminent threat to life or property. [The Strait Times]

12 January 2021

Singapore: Bill to make laws easier to understand passed

(py) The Parliament has passed the Statute law Reform Bill, which foresees a greater use of simplified language in legislation. The Law Revision Commissioners are granted the power to make editorial changes to shape legislation in accordance with modern drafting practices without altering their meaning. Additionally, in order to deal with the ongoing pandemic, the law extends the definition of “Parliament” to include not only Parliament House but any place appointed by the President. [The Strait Times]


5 January 2021

Singapore: Modernization of the military

(nd) Determined to find an equilibrium between the possibilities of technology for armed forces and maintaining peace and security to avoid an arms race in the region, the next-generation modernization of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is likely to focus on three major points until 2030. First, technology will be enhanced, including sensor-shooter cycle, surveillance, pre-emptive maintenance and training on data analytics. This also encompasses unmanned, automated, artificial intelligence (AI), cyber and space-based assets. While this is a global trend, in Singapore’s case, technology partially curbs the demographic issue with the number of conscripts expected to fall by a third in the next ten years. Second, technology will be expanded to cover homeland and cybersecurity threats, including special formations like the Island Defence Task Force, the Special Operations Task Force and the Maritime Security Task Force to address terrorism. Thirdly, training for kinetic operations will be continued, including larger and more realistic training areas.

In light of the growing tension with China in the region, Singapore’s modernization efforts could also be misunderstood and jeopardize its neutrality, showcased in rumors about Singapore working as a possible home port for the US Navy’s First Fleet. [East Asia Forum]

5 January 2021

Singapore: Former Chinese spy arrested

(nd) Singaporean spy Dickson Yeo, jailed in the US for spying for China earlier last year, has upon his arrival in Singapore been arrested to be questioned on whether “he had engaged in activities prejudicial to Singapore’s security.”

From 2015 to 2019, Yeo used his US-based political consultancy as a front for Chinese intelligence services, according to court documents. To do so, Yeo hired US military and government insiders with high security clearances to write reports for the consultancy, which he then provided to China. According to the court documents, he was aware that those were affiliated with Chinese intelligence. The former PhD student at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) was recruited by Chinese intelligence during his time at the university. [South China Morning Post]

5 January 2021

Singapore: New law on digital payment

(py) The parliament has passed the Payment Services (Amendment) Bill, which aims to strengthen current standards for virtual asset service providers in digital payment tokens (DPTs) also known as cryptocurrencies. Under this new amendment, the Money Authority of Singapore (MAS) will be able to regulate cryptocurrency service providers who facilitate the use of cryptocurrencies for payments to ensure consumer protection. This shall also curb the feared speed and transnational nature of cryptocurrency, which could impose higher money laundering and terrorism financing risks. [The Strait Times]

5 January 2021

ASEAN countries, US to seek last minute deals

(nd) Only weeks before the official end of the Trump administration, countries across Southeast Asia seem to pursue last minute security and economic agreements with the US in light of president Donald Trump’s transactional approach to diplomacy. During the Trump presidency, trade with the US increased despite of his relative lack of interest in the region, while the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden is widely associated with a stricter emphasis on human rights and democratic values. In early December, the Philippines received $29 million in military equipment during a visit, with an announcement of additional $18 million worth of military equipment and training.

For Indonesia’s planned sovereign wealth fund, the US International Development Finance Corp. signed a letter of interest for a $2 billion as one of the first countries to sign up, with an aimed estimated total of about $15 billion from around the world. The US also extend tariff exemptions for Indonesia, possibly with an eye on cooperation against Chinese maritime actions in the South China Sea. Due to its geographic position, the region will play a pivotal role in geopolitics in the coming years, to stand strong against Chinese aggression and growing influence, but still, in the region, democratic governance is deteriorating, and left unaddressed.

Economically, the region has benefitted from the Trump administration, with ASEAN having received about $24.5 billion in direct investment from the US in 2019, with exports from Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia on the rise since 2017. Additionally, US-based power company AES announced to join a development project for a liquefied natural gas terminal in Vietnam, which also agreed to import up to $500 million in American pork over the next three years. This was seen as a reaction to mitigate the trade imbalance, still US accused Vietnam of currency manipulation after. [Nikkei Asia]

5 January 2021

Malaysia, Singapore to terminate multibillion-dollar high-speed rail project

(nd) Malaysia and Singapore announced they would terminate a 2016 plan to build a US$25 billion high-speed rail project. Demanded changes by the Malay side were not agreed upon. The Malaysian government will have to pay a fee for the cancellation of the contract, reportedly more than S$100 million (US$75 million).

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance, who unexpectedly won the general election in 2018, asked for a commencement extension to re-evaluate costs and the project’s merits, referring to the huge national debt. Following the PH’s oust by a political coup in March, Prime Minister Yassin Muhyiddin’s administration tried to renegotiate, including a realignment of the rail link to connect it to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), to avoid the feared divert in traffic to Singapore’s more established Changi Airport.

The original plan was to reduce travel time from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore to 90 minutes for the 350km distance. The pandemic and expected decrease in travel also for business purposes might have made the project less economically interesting. [South China Morning Post]